St Barnabas, Bainbridge Island, WA (Exterior)

St Barnabas, Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Barnabas
Location: Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 September 2014, 10:00am

The building

The solid brick building was built in 1946, inspired by the small Gothic churches of England and northern France. Wooden fixtures and stained glass windows were acquired from some of the same companies that furnished St John the Divine in New York. I loved it: warm and earthy, yet detailed enough to fascinate. The gardens looked good for meditation, though I did not spend much time in them.

The church

The congregants seemed mostly older, with a few young families. That reflects the makeup of the island. The program listed activities such as a music series, centering prayer, Christian healing through Reiki (the Buddhist healing art), and a fundraising walk for food aid both abroad and locally. Nine per cent of the islands residents are served by food aid. After the service, the rector allowed as how this is the more "liturgically traditional and politically conservative" parish on the island (there is another Episcopal church that split from St Barnabas in the late 1980s).

The neighborhood

A timber processing hub in the past, Bainbridge Island is a 35-minute ferry ride west of Seattle, where many of its residents work. It is moderately priced given its proximity, and boasts a small-town feel and lots of gorgeous nature. Its well-educated population of 23,000 is growing rapidly, but parts of the island are owned by a land trust to ensure that the natural setting is preserved.

The cast

The Revd Dr Dennis Tierney, rector, was assisted by the Revd Deacon Dan Fowler and three acolytes.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist with Baptism

How full was the building?

About 100 people, filled to capacity.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I entered the building, one greeter welcomed me and another gave me a service handout. The people near me didnt recognize me as new during the peace, but the rector appended a welcome when shaking hands. Visitors were also welcomed generally during the announcements.

Was your pew comfortable?

Standard wooden pews. Very comfy padded kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

A pleasant hum of conversation during the voluntary.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Hymnal 1982 and the Book of Common Prayer 1979. Also in the pew, but not used during the service, was Forward Day by Day, a booklet of daily devotions. Responses, readings and announcements were printed in a thorough handout.

What musical instruments were played?

Director of music Paul Roy was very skilled at the organ, opus 33 of Richard Bond Organ Builders of Portland, Oregon. The organ occupies a prominent location at the front of the sanctuary.

Did anything distract you?

One part of a scripture reading emphasized different words in the passage than I expected. Examining the context, I felt it obscured the point of the passage. Also, when the rector mentioned the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment during his sermon (see below), I immediately thought of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from the movie Ghostbusters, and I'm afraid I struggled to dismiss the image from my mind.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

This church sings! Between the eleven choir members and the rest of the congregation, the air was full of active voices, backed up by the organ. Hymns included "O Worship the King", one of my favorites. I also loved that the responsorial psalm was chanted by all.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

6 – The Revd Dr Tierney spoke clearly and personably. He explained his outside references well. I think it may have benefited from more explicit outlining, but he tied most of it together at the end.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He reviewed the classic Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (a study done in the late 1960s-early 1970s on the correlation between delayed gratification and life outcomes) and said that for many, Christianity seems like an experiment in delayed gratification: suffer now, as your reward in heaven will be great. But a godly life brings immediate joys. Delayed gratification is mostly our failure to recognize Gods ubiquitous blessings now. Gods love is not a marshmallow given to us for performing well, he concluded.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Choir member Robert Engel, tenor, gave us a deeply moving aria during the offertory. In a rich, sonorous vibrato he sang Bist du bei mir, attributed to JS Bach: "When thou art near, I go with joy to death and my rest. O how pleasant would my end be, if your fair hands would close my faithful eyes."

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

While there were certainly parts of the sermon I agreed with, I was surprised by its equating gratification with love, and chilled by the dismissal of the meaningfulness of joining our cross to Christs. I found it at odds with the unitive nature of the baptism that followed: "In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection."

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I enjoyed a friendly conversation with the rector on the way out. The after-service coffee was well-advertised and well-attended, so I headed over there.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Juice, plus cookies, cheese, sausage, and many other finger foods awaited me in the hall. I appreciated the gluten-free options. There were also helpful information tables for visitors.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

6 – it’s hard for me to dislike a service if it has the eucharist and the good old BCP. I was also drawn to the building and enthusiastic singing. I'm going to assume that the Revd Dr Tierney's sermon today was uncharacteristic. I would like to hear him preach on another occasion.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

It made me feel gladder to be at an especially privileged point in my life. I wouldnt have found it comforting if I had any struggles or hardships to speak of.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

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